The energy required to initiate self-assembly in the MIT/Stratasys project comes from interactions of the water molecules with the molecules of the water-expanding material, said Dikovksy. Other energy sources could include humidity, sound, heat, or vibration. But before that, the next step could be generating energy by removing water, which will make the structure contract instead of expand.
In an interview on the TED blog about his 2013 TED Talk, Tibbits says potential applications for the technology are space systems that expand and self-assemble in orbit, activated by changes in pressure, temperature, or light.
Self-assembly of artificial systems is not a new idea. It's being pursued at the nano-level, using carbon nanotubes and organic or engineered DNA, as well as various methods for modular, self-reconfigurable robots.
We've covered mechanical, self-assembling robots such as the Smart Pebbles robotic cubes built by a team in the Distributed Robotics Laboratory (DRL) of MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL). At the nano-device level, we've reported on synthetic DNA strands programmed to self-assemble into 2D tiles, and more recently, into 3D bricks, by researchers at Harvard's Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering.
Many of the developments in robotics are actually aimed at product manufacturing: The idea is to use robotic modules to make rapid prototypes, self-repairing systems, replacement parts for other systems, and self-reconfiguring systems like furniture that changes from a chair into a table. Adding expandable, programmable materials and 3D printing to this mix will give the development of this rapidly-changing field a big boost.
@Ann: Yes there are always 2 sides of everything and same theory applies for this as well. I feel 3D printing is superb and will be the next big thing in IT but the fear is what if it goes in the wrong direction. What kind of negative impacts will it have ?
a.saji, I have not personally used 3D printing. I've talked to people who have used it, mostly the high-end machines producing engineering prototypes and small-batch end-products for aerospace. Like any technology, it could have negative impacts on our world, which we've discussed in the comments sections to many stories in Design News.
@Ann: Yes Ann I'm working on a AI project which involves some other electronic methodologies too. It can be used to detect the facial expressions which might or I'm trying to make it suited for ATM or even Healthcare and IT systems. I feel by doing this, the risk will get mitigated to a certain level.
NASA and Boeing developed a huge, carbon composite cryogenic fuel tank for deep space missions, and started testing it last month. The 18-ft cryotank will enable heavy-lift launch vehicles to send both humans and robots into deep space.
German engineering firm EDAG Group showed a single-piece, 3D-printed car body design inspired by a turtle at the Geneva Motor Show. It came about after an assessment of how additive manufacturing could be applied to making industrial components, modules, and complete vehicle bodies.
Some of the biggest self-assembled building blocks and structures made from engineered DNA have been developed by researchers at Harvard's Wyss Institute. The largest, a hexagonal prism, is one-tenth the size of an average bacterium.
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